Posts tagged John F. Kennedy
Posts tagged John F. Kennedy
Joe Kennedy and his second boy.
An American scene:
Sixth-grade science classroom in a suburban elementary school, Oct. 23, 1962. At the front, the teacher — a tall, athletic young man — is weeping and telling his young charges, “We are so close to the end of the world.”
The 10- and 11-year-old students sit in stunned silence, at the messenger as well as the message. Few have seen a grown man cry, and certainly not a teacher.
But Oct. 23, 1962, was no ordinary day. The night before, President John F. Kennedy had revealed to the nation that the Soviet Union was placing nuclear missiles capable of destroying much of the United States in Cuba. And for a few days, the world rode the brink of extinction, saved only by the young president’s skillful handling of the crisis and the Soviets’ willingness to back down.
Little more than a year later, JFK was dead, but those students and the science teacher were alive — we were still alive .
- Jack Kennedy ‘Elusive Hero’ by Chris Matthews
JFK campaigning in Portland, Ore., 1959.
HARTFORD, Connecticut - A document discovered at the boarding school attended by John F. Kennedy bolsters a theory that a former headmaster provided inspiration for his famous line, “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country,” a school archivist said Thursday.
A notebook where the Choate School headmaster kept fodder for his sermons included a quote from a Harvard University dean who wrote: “The youth who loves his Alma Mater will always ask, not `What can she do for me?’ but `What can I do for her?”’
Kennedy, who sat through the chapel sermons as a teenager in the 1930s, used similar language when he called the nation to service in his 1961 inauguration address.
For years after that speech, other alumni of the school in Wallingford, Connecticut said they heard an echo of headmaster George St. John’s sermons in Kennedy’s address. But archivist Judy Donald at the school now known as Choate Rosemary Hall said they did not have any evidence until she found the quotation three years ago on the first page of one of his notebooks.
"When we found these prose books, we felt OK, here’s the link we were missing," Donald said.
The document’s discovery was reported first in a new book by television host Chris Matthews.
Historians have debated how much credit for the legendary speech belongs to presidential adviser Theodore Sorenson versus Kennedy. In a 2004 book on the inaugural, “Ask Not,” author Thurston Clarke concludes that Kennedy is the author and explores the connection to Choate, saying the headmaster used to say it’s “not what Choate does for you, but what you can do for Choate.”
Young Kennedy at Choate (1935)
But one JFK biographer, Michael O’Brien, said he was skeptical any headmaster’s sermon would have made an impression on Kennedy. As a teenager, he said, Kennedy was more focused on making plans with friends.
"I don’t think he would have been paying attention to anything like that," said O’Brien, an emeritus professor of history at University of Wisconsin-Fox Valley and the author of "Rethinking Kennedy: An Interpretive Biography."
The connection to Kennedy has always been a source of pride for Choate, as has the possible connection to his inaugural address for those who knew about it, according to Donald. She noted that a bust of Kennedy in the administration building is adorned with the “ask not” quote from the speech.
The quotation found in the notebook is an excerpt from an essay by Dean LeBaron Briggs of Harvard University, where St. John graduated in 1902. Choate officials say St. John knew Briggs well and often used his words as inspiration for his sermons.
Before the document came to light, Donald said she had searched through 40 years’ worth of sermons by St. George for the language described by so many graduates. After coming up short, she hired someone else to do it in case she missed something. She described the eventual discovery of the quotation in a long-lost notebook as a “eureka” moment.
"As often happens in archives, things were hiding in plain sight," she said.
The first time Chris Matthews remembers hearing of John F. Kennedy, he was a 10-year-old Northeast Philadelphia boy obsessed with politics, listening to the 1956 Democratic National Convention on the radio in the family’s ‘54 Chevy Bel Air. Kennedy, then a young senator from Massachusetts, lost a bid for the vice presidential nomination and, then, in a dramatic gesture, bounded to the podium to ask that his opponent, Estes Kefauver, be nominated unanimously. Matthews, a student at the Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary parish school, stayed true to his family’s Republican allegiance and rooted for President Dwight Eisenhower in the fall election. But he never lost his fascination with Kennedy. As a paperboy in 1960, Matthews followed JFK’s progress to the Democratic presidential nomination in the Philadelphia Bulletin, the afternoon paper he tossed onto lawns around the Somerton neighborhood. Later, Matthews joined the Peace Corps that Kennedy founded, and was an aide to President Jimmy Carter and House Speaker Tip O’Neill (D., Mass.) before becoming a columnist for the San Francisco Examiner and, ultimately, host of the MSNBC political talk show Hardball. All along the way during his Washington career, Matthews collected stories about Kennedy and got to know many members of the late president’s inner circle. The result is a new book, Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero. Matthews is scheduled to talk about the book Thursday at the National Constitution Center.
The first time Chris Matthews remembers hearing of John F. Kennedy, he was a 10-year-old Northeast Philadelphia boy obsessed with politics, listening to the 1956 Democratic National Convention on the radio in the family’s ‘54 Chevy Bel Air. Kennedy, then a young senator from Massachusetts, lost a bid for the vice presidential nomination and, then, in a dramatic gesture, bounded to the podium to ask that his opponent, Estes Kefauver, be nominated unanimously.
Matthews, a student at the Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary parish school, stayed true to his family’s Republican allegiance and rooted for President Dwight Eisenhower in the fall election. But he never lost his fascination with Kennedy. As a paperboy in 1960, Matthews followed JFK’s progress to the Democratic presidential nomination in the Philadelphia Bulletin, the afternoon paper he tossed onto lawns around the Somerton neighborhood.
Later, Matthews joined the Peace Corps that Kennedy founded, and was an aide to President Jimmy Carter and House Speaker Tip O’Neill (D., Mass.) before becoming a columnist for the San Francisco Examiner and, ultimately, host of the MSNBC political talk show Hardball.
All along the way during his Washington career, Matthews collected stories about Kennedy and got to know many members of the late president’s inner circle. The result is a new book, Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero. Matthews is scheduled to talk about the book Thursday at the National Constitution Center.
In advance of the event, Matthews answered questions about Kennedy and the book project.
Question: There are thousands of books about Kennedy. What were you hoping to say with yours?
Answer: I always thought of him as a prince, with a charmed life. I tried to find the human Jack I could get my arms around, to try and understand him as a guy, not just a rich prince… . He was a guy who was sick and in horrendous pain all the time - who would say, “I wish I had a few good days.” I really wanted to try to find a way with all these people who knew him to catch him in the middle, the theater in the round, to see all of him by putting together their different points of view.
Q: What insights did you develop into Kennedy that were fresh or surprising to you?
A: How much he was shaped by being in the hospital so much as a kid. Because he was sick, he was a reader, and because he was a reader, Kennedy had heroes. Because he had heroes, he went into politics. [Kennedy liked Sir Walter Scott, King Arthur’s knights, and biographies of political leaders.] If he hadn’t been sick, he might have been like everybody else in the family, a jock. But Jean [Kennedy Smith, JFK’s sister] told me she thinks the whole sports angle has been overplayed, that politics was central to him. This nonsense that he only went into politics because his older brother Joe was killed is not true. He was determined he was going to be in politics, but he would have waited his turn. The idea that he was talked into going into politics to take his brother’s place - you can’t be talked into going into politics. It’s like talking a kid into liking baseball. You liked it or you didn’t. He liked it.
It was fascinating what a total interest he had in his tradecraft of being a politician. I didn’t realize before that he was working on his memoirs all along, how he ran for Congress, that sort of thing. He kept a diary and in the White House dictated his thoughts. He felt real guilt at the killing of [Ngo Dinh] Diem, the leader of South Vietnam. On the Dictaphone, on Aug. 24, 1963, Kennedy talked about his signal to Henry Cabot Lodge to back the coup that knocked the guy off. He was really staggered. Listening, I was amazed at how honest he was.
Q: To me, it was shocking in the recent book Caroline Kennedy put out that Jackie Kennedy said JFK’s mother never loved him.
A: It matches up with what he’d said about his mother. He’d cry when she’d go away. He had leukemia at Choate, or they thought he had leukemia, and she never visited him. Action is character, as they say in drama.
Q: So Jack was basically a lonely boy?
A: The fact is he always had to have somebody around besides Jackie. Whatever their relationship, he wanted company. I think it gets back to all those years in a hospital bed. He liked fresh company, new people to come visit and then leave… . I think he liked the protection of numbers too… . He had compartments. Jackie was in one compartment, and he had his Irish mafia and his personal friends from Choate and the Navy.
Q: You focus on the Cuban Missile Crisis as the biggest test of Kennedy’s character.
A: Like Henry V, he’s flawed and he’s a hero - they’re both true. And that comes together then; you can really see it as a writer. Khrushchev was ready to push the button. He was going to move on Berlin. It could easily have been the trip wire to nuclear war and Kennedy wouldn’t do it. All the experts around him - McGeorge Bundy, [Gen.] Curtis LeMay - wanted to bomb Cuba and go to war. He said, “No we won’t do that… .”
It was his coldness and his detachment, his ability to stand next to another person and not let their emotions affect him. [Kennedy’s friend] Chuck Spalding at the wedding said Jack was two guys: the groom and somebody else observing from a distance… . It must have been maddening to be married to a guy like that, but you could at the same time argue that characteristic kept the world from being blown up… . He was Arthur, the guy in the middle of the room with all the swords pointed at him… . He wanted control of the situation.
Q: Many people are fascinated by the relationship between Jackie and Jack. What did she know, and why did she put up with his infidelities?
A: That’s the part you can never get to. Did it hurt her, his behavior? … I wanted to know how Jackie felt about it, and I got to know Rachel “Bunny” Mellon. Bunny and her were buddies. I asked, “How do you know what Jackie knew?” And Bunny said, “She told me.”… Jackie called him “Magic.” Bunny said she just picked her man. That was it. This was the guy she loved
Q: Are there parallels between Presidents Obama and Kennedy?
A: I see some parallels but I don’t see the leadership that this guy [Kennedy] had of other men and women. It’s more than being the smartest guy in room… . The Kennedys formed a Kennedy party. I don’t sense an Obama party. I think politics is transactional for him. The real difference between relationship politics and transactional politics is loyalty. Obama doesn’t seem to expect it.
Oh, it’s a long long while from May to December
But the days grow short when you reach September
When the autumn weather turns the leaves to flame
One hasn’t got the time
Oh, the days dwindle down to a precious few
And these few precious days I’ll spend with you
These precious days I’ll spend with you
— Sung by John F. Kennedy on the last Sunday of his life
Every gift but length of years..
'To An Athlete Dying Young’ - A.E Housman (1896)
The time you won your town the race
We chaired you through the market-place;
Man and boy stood cheering by,
And home we brought you shoulder-high.
To-day, the road all runners come,
Shoulder-high we bring you home,
And set you at your threshold down,
Townsman of a stiller town.
Smart lad, to slip betimes away
From fields where glory does not stay
And early though the laurel grows
It withers quicker than the rose.
Eyes the shady night has shut
Cannot see the record cut,
And silence sounds no worse than cheers
After earth has stopped the ears:
Now you will not swell the rout
Of lads that wore their honours out,
Runners whom renown outran
And the name died before the man.
So set, before its echoes fade,
The fleet foot on the sill of shade,
And hold to the low lintel up
The still-defended challenge-cup.
And round that early-laurelled head
Will flock to gaze the strengthless dead,
And find unwithered on its curls
The garland briefer than a girl’s.
Jackie’s taste was very simple. She liked only the very best.— Oleg Cassini
Winning in the West Virginia primary, 1960
The Kennedy siblings at campaign headquarters: Eunice, Patricia, Robert, John and Jean.